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A PM and a brother

Article by 
Anesta Henry

Many Barbadians will remember the late Owen Seymour Arthur as the man who engineered economic prosperity in the country between 1994 and 2008, but to his three surviving siblings he was a central figure in the Arthur family despite having to give so much of his life and time to public service.

The former Prime Minister’s younger brother Richard Arthur and older sister Valmay Arthur told Barbados TODAY at the family house at Rose Hill, St Peter, that while they are in pain over the death of their sibling they will forever hold close to their hearts the special memories they created over the years.

Their younger sister, Patricia Roach, 49, was also present, but was too shaken up to speak.

Valmay and Richard and other immediate relatives, said goodbye to Arthur at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Sunday evening, before he passed away after midnight on Monday, at age 70.

A teary Valmay, senior to Barbados’ fifth Prime Minister by 15 months, shared strikingly similar features with him. Today she declared that her twin is now gone.

“For a while it was just the two of us and as small children we used to go everywhere together, even walk these streets at the age of three and four going down to my grandmother’s. And since he retired from active politics, him and I would go around together and find different places to eat.

“I don’t think it sat too well with him all these years that I was the older of the two, it was always a little bone of contention. I was 15 months older than him and that is why we look so much alike because I think we were conceived at the same time but one born 15 months earlier and as someone who dealt with pregnancies and stuff I don’t know how factual that is but it makes sense to me. Because you cannot look like someone so much and not have a connection via umbilical cord,” Valmay said referring to Arthur as her other half.

“It is going to be a hard one because we would go and pick fruits. And if he was going to St Philip to see Lady Isabel, his granddaughter and his daughter Sabrina, I would have to tag along. We had many run outs and outings together and that started from the time we were children. So I have no run around companion anymore,” she added.

Valmay said her brother knew how proud she was of his achievements as a statesman, noting that he worked hard and represented the people of St Peter as their Member of Parliament to the best of his ability.

“I spent some time at his bedside yesterday. He reacted occasionally and would look at you even though you weren’t sure he was focused. And with all the tubes and things that were connected to him, it was difficult to know what to do. But I physically made contact with him,” said a saddened Valmay.

Richard, the sixth of seven children, recalled that his last outing with his sibling on Father’s Day and then two Sunday nights earlier , they spent time at the family house planning a homecoming cook-off to determine the best cook in the family.

“My first good memory of Owen is him taking me to All Saints’ Primary School in a long, short pants. He was going to Harrison Collage on that same day. He had just left Coleridge and Parry and was heading to Harrison College. I watched Owen playing cricket in the road here at Bend Hill, practically every evening and you couldn’t get Owen out. Owen was never out. He would take up the bat and the ball and come home. We had a couple pitches in the quarry and if Owen was out, he coming home with the bat and ball and that was the character,” Richard said.

“I am happy to say that I had good times with him. Like all brothers we had fights, there were ups and downs like all siblings. We also had strong discussions and arguments but at the end of the day we all came back together. As I said we were all together on Father’s Day despite a recent fight and he was here the Sunday night having tea and biscuits with Valmay,” the 58-year-old added.

Richard said it was also his older brother who introduced him to active politics and supported him throughout his pursuit to become the Member of Parliament for St Lucy though his efforts were not successful.

“When I decided I was not doing it again he said to me ‘do not leave the people of St Lucy out, continue to look after them. I remarked when Owen first became Prime Minister in 1994, I said to my sister Valmay that we have lost our brother and the country has gained a Prime Minister.”

Richard said he expected that Owen would have been taken from the family to do the work of the country. “And he did it well, remarkably, and we are proud. People might have something that may be negative to say, but Owen did and give his all.”

The younger Arthur said that in recent times, even when Arthur was advised to slow down because he had reached 70, he still wanted to be involved in aspects of the country and CARICOM. He said they engaged in lengthy discussions about Barbados, CARICOM and LIAT.

“Everything was about LIAT and Guyana and he seriously took those on and I believe that added to the stress. Last Sunday night when he was here everything was about LIAT, we gotta make a decision about LIAT, and he was just going on and on.”

Richard said Owen’s death has come at a time the family is counting the loss of several loved ones over the past three years.

“My grandmother passed away, and then it was grand daddy, my father and then my niece all in one year, months apart. Then a year after that my sister Jackie, she passed away, then Judy passed last year and then my nephew Sheldon who is my sister Judy’s son passed away in March this year. So it has been rough and really hard on the family within the last three years. We have had death in the family like unbelievable,” he said.

“I went yesterday and I was able to see him. He opened his eyes for the last I believe. I prayed with him. I was there talking and he was just calm, peaceful and then he opened his eyes and then closed them back and he had a smile on his face,” Richard said as he spoke of the final moments he spent with Arthur.

Arthur’s wife Julie and their daughter Leah also joined loved ones at the family home, but they both declined to comment. However, Julie, who was seen comforting a tearful relative, told members of the media it was difficult to speak about her deceased husband at this time.

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